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February 7, 2004

Day Two in Targoviste

Sometimes while sitting in committee meetings at SDSU I begin to have an out-of-body experience. From my position floating near the ceiling I entertain myself by thinking of something completely different while the discussion grinds on to a conclusion that should have taken half the time.

The morning working group was like that, only off-the-scale more-so. The agenda was simply to discuss having a videoconference involving all the institutions working on the project. What could be time-consuming about deciding on that? Nailing down a date! Easter vacation affects things, and there are two Easters involved here: one for the Romanian Orthodox and another for the Catholics and Protestants. That pushed the date towards late April, but there we run into Pentecost and Italy's national day. Back and forth it went until finally a good day was found.

Then there's the language problem. The meeting is being conducted in English, which is a second or third language for everyone here but me. This constrains communication to the lowest common vocabulary. Humor and word play are just about impossible, at least at an adult level. It's like trying to speak through a mouth stuffed full of peanut butter. And even when the words are understood, they don't mean the same things. "OK, we need an example from the high school level." "What's high school? Do you mean secondary?" "High school is for ages 14-17." "Oh, for us, there's lower high school for 12-14 and upper high school for 15 - 18". And so on and on and on. It's a wonder that anything gets accomplished in the EU, but somehow it does.

Turns out that I'm going to be one of the points in this multipoint videoconference. That was a surprise to me but the challenge should be interesting. Challenge is the operative word, too. This group hasn't ever put a videoconference on before, let alone one with 6 languages and 2 continents. Yes, April 27 should be interesting.

Since we were meeting on the Valahia University campus, I finally had a chance to sneak out, plug an ethernet cable into my Powerbook and check my mail. After three days of my being unplugged, I knew the intestines of cyberspace would be jampacked with fascinating new information addressed to me. True enough: there were 725 messages, of which 5 were personal and important, 100 were from lists I belong to, 150 were generated by the MyDoom virus responding to infected attachments I never actually sent, and 470 were spam. I'll be disconnected again until Monday and will have to go through this again with the same odds.

We left the Engineering building just as the sun was starting to set. I heard a loud rustling in the sky and looked up to see a flock of crows so thick you could barely see any blue behind them. Straight out of Hitchcock. I wondered if it was some kind of north-south migration but soon learned that it was a daily phenomenon. These crows commute to a garbage dump outside of Targoviste every morning, eat their fill, and return home each night. The explanation made it seem less majestic, but only by a little bit.

Back into the minibus for a long ride to dinner. This time we went to a vineyard and clambered down steep stairs into its chilly cellar. We started with a tasting of 8 wines decanted for us on the spot with a lecture about the qualities of each. Most of them were claimed to provide new energy for older men. Maybe I'm not "older" yet since I didn't feel any different. I suppose that's good.

After the tasting we left the wine cellar and drove a short distance to the restaurant on the premises. By the way, Romanians don't designate bathrooms by gender. (The huge lineup before dinner involving 30 people and two unisex toilets makes this seem like a good point in the story to report that.)

Dinner was again, tasty and too much. There must have been six courses.

I'm going to have to have a leg amputated to get back to my pre-Romania weight.